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Football: Colorado Buffs embracing opportunity vs. No. 8 Oregon

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University of Colorado Boulder's head coach, ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s head coach, Mike Sanford, celebrated with Tommy Brown after a CU touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Oct. 29, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Game at a Glance

• Matchup: No. 8 Oregon Ducks (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-7, 1-4)

• Kickoff: 1:35 p.m. MT

• Where: Folsom Field in Boulder

• Capacity: 50,183. Playing surface: Grass

• TV: ESPN

• Radio: KOA (850 or 630 AM & 94.1 FM)

• Odds: Oregon by 31.5

• Series: Oregon leads 14-9

This week, Colorado interim head coach Mike Sanford shared a well-known quote with his players.

“If you want to conduct an orchestra, you have to turn your back to the crowd,” read the quote, which for this week was designed to help the Buffaloes block outside noise as they aim to pull off an upset of No. 8 Oregon on Saturday at Folsom Field.

Will all due respect to conductors around the world, none of them have ever had to try to lead an orchestra while a bigger, faster, more highly-regarded orchestra was charging the stage.

Sanford and the Buffs (1-7, 1-4 Pac-12) will try to produce their most symphonic performance of the season on Saturday, but it’s a monumental task to knock off the heavily-favored Ducks (7-1, 5-0).

“Through tough times, through adversity, when nobody’s giving you a chance, at some point you have to literally turn your back to the crowd and you’ve got to focus on those that you lead,” Sanford said. “If we play harder than our opponent and we play to our maximum potential of how hard we play, that’s what ultimately yielded the results (in the Buffs’ lone win, Oct. 15 against California).

“We want to do everything in our power to play as hard (as the past few weeks) and surpass that and then play with better execution than we did last week. If we play with better execution than our opponent, it gives you a chance.”

Playing hard hasn’t been an issue for the Buffaloes since Sanford took over as interim head coach on Oct. 2. That has produced just one win in three games, however, and the schedule gets significantly tougher down the stretch.

The No. 8 Ducks will be the first ranked opponent to face the Buffs this season, but not the last. The Buffs visit No. 9 USC next week, followed by a road trip to Washington, which is currently unranked, but receiving Top 25 votes at 6-2. The brutal stretch is capped by a regular season finale at Folsom Field against No. 12 Utah.

CU is a 31.5-point underdog Saturday and will be a heavy underdog in the other three games, as well. But, that also opens the door for the Buffs to potentially play a spoiler role against four of the top contenders for the Pac-12 title.

“I’m extremely excited,” defensive lineman Jalen Sami said. “That’s just four more opportunities for me to showcase my talent, and then also to showcase what our defense is about.

“I look towards these big teams that we’re gonna face. There’s just another opportunity to be an underdog and show them we’re not to be messed around with. I love the game. I love the trenches. Big guy, I’ve got to fight. So I appreciate it. I look forward to Oregon and then USC and Washington after that. So, we’ll see.”

To the credit of the players, they’ve remained optimistic throughout a difficult season, so it’s no surprise they head into a challenging November with that optimism somewhat intact.

“Pretty much if you’re not optimistic at all, then you don’t deserve to be on the team,” linebacker Quinn Perry said. “That’s kind of my thought. If you have any second guesses, then you’re not fully bought in. I’ve always been 100%. There’s never been a doubt in my mind that we can’t beat anybody we don’t play.

“We’re all on the same page. We want to play as hard as we can for as many minutes, as many snaps as we get. So it’s never really been a question, I don’t think. Definitely to the public, you can see maybe there’s a lack of success … but no, (optimism) hasn’t dropped 1%.”

The possibility of playing spoiler and pulling an upset isn’t the only motivation for the Buffs on Saturday. Those with aspirations to play at the next level are well aware that a game against a top-10 team on ESPN will get more exposure.

“Every week is your resume,” running back Deion Smith said. “A good percentage of these guys want to play on the next level, just like I do. Every time you strap up, you’ve got to try to put your best on resume. … Every day is an opportunity.”

Perry is among those who hope to play professionally and he knows the opportunity in front of him and the Buffs.

“There’s definitely excitement every weekend, no matter the opponent we play,” Perry said. “Obviously it means a lot more when they’re a ranked opponent. You give yourself an opportunity to show yourself, for guys that have opportunities at the draft. Hopefully that’s for myself as well. But, I know guys are really excited to go against powerhouse teams and show them that we can play the way we want to if you just don’t give up (mistakes).”

According to ActionNetwork.com, there have been only 18 times since 1980 that an  underdog of 31-plus points has won in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The most recent was Kansas, as a 31-point underdog, stunning Texas in overtime last year.

Sanford was a part of the second-biggest upset of the last 43 seasons. He was an assistant coach at Stanford in 2007 when the Cardinal, a 38.5-point underdog, shocked No. 2 USC, 24-23.

So, as the Buffs prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Oregon, they’re blocking the outside noise and embracing opportunity to make some history.

“That’s competition at the end of the day,” guard Casey Roddick said. “If you don’t like competition then you’re in the wrong sport. Oregon’s a very tough team; Oregon’s a great team, so it’s going to be a great challenge and we’re excited for it.

“No one’s gonna give us a chance against (the next four opponents), but we have the opportunity to shock some people.”

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